Tag Archives: Annie

Naptown Nostagia: The Eastwood Theater took us to that galaxy far, far away

NOTE: This is a reprint of my article that appeared in the October 2011 edition of Indianapolis Senior Life. My thanks to Mr. Dave Battas for sharing his story of how he secured Star Wars for the Indianapolis market. We are forever grateful. 


This original artist rendering shows the Eastwood Theater as it was conceived in the late 1960’s as an 800-seat one screen auditorium. The movie house opened in September of 1968 with the comedy “Prudence and the Pill” followed by “Funny Girl”

The Eastwood Theater sat adjacent to the old Ayr-Way anchored shopping center along Pendleton Pike and was known for its curved-screen, free popcorn refills and having the best sound system in the city.

“I saw Tommy there,” said Robert Baker.

The Eastwood was owned by Y&W management Company which owned a number of indoor and outdoor theaters around Central Indiana and when they decided to open their new “road house’ theater on the east side, they asked Dave Battas to book the movies, manage and market the place.

“We opened the Eastwood on September 10, 1968 with Prudence and the Pill with Funny Girl following soon afterward,” he said.

The Eastwood offered their audiences reserved seating and advanced ticket sales of their limited engagement runs such as Paint Your Wagon and boasted uniformed usherettes who showed folks to their seats before the theater later segued to book traditional releases in the 1970’s.

Originally the theater had a flat screen but due to the number of films shot in Cinerama, a curved screen was installed in 1973 and never replaced. Battas booked several celebrity appearances at the Eastwood and took a lot of pride in the theater. After noticing a patron writing on the wall after a showing of Woodstock, Battas attached white paper to plywood boards and encouraged people to leave their mark as they left.

An old Fashioned "Grape Stomp" was organized in the Eastwood's lobby for "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" starring Anthony Quinn. Former Eastwood manager Dave Battas said he was always trying to find special events to tie-in with the pictures in order to draw crowds.

An old Fashioned “Grape Stomp” was organized in the Eastwood’s lobby for “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” starring Anthony Quinn. 

“There were a lot of names, dates, poems and peace symbols,” he said. “I hung those sheets all over the lobby.”

Though The Eastwood was known for a variety of movie offerings, the one that stands out for most movie goers is was the film Battas acquired in October of 1976. A 20th Century Fox representative asked Battas to consider a run of a new science fiction picture that was to be released the following summer. It was a tough sell. The film was made in England on a closed set. The principle actors were unknowns and the director was unproven.

“The working title is called Star Wars,” the representative said, promising Battas a selection of drive-in films if he took the little sci-fi odyssey, agreed to a $50,000 advance and installed a state-of-the-art Dolby sound system.

“We were the perfect theater for the picture because it was shot in 70mm and we had one of the few 70mm projectors in the area,” Battas said, explaining how he scored the exclusive run of a movie that went on to shatter box office records. “I didn’t even see the film until two days before it opened,” said Battas. “When I saw that opening sequence, I laughed because I knew it was going to be big.”

The film the Eastwood was notorious for was the initial run of "Star Wars" in 1977. This marquee shows that the movie was well-received enough to play at the Eastwood for a solid year.

The film the Eastwood was notorious for was the initial run of “Star Wars” in 1977. This marquee shows that the movie was well-received enough to play at the Eastwood for a solid year.

Star Wars proved to be bigger than big, filling the 800-seat theater to capacity at each of the five daily showings. Lines for the movie stretched into the parking lot and past a nearby Dairy Queen which also benefitted from the engagement.

“I guess people were buying ice cream like crazy while they waited,” he said. “To this day, it remains the movie for which the theater is best known.”

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Eastwood became the place to see movies known for their special effects and sound quality such as Grease, Annie and Cocoon, but as multiplexes became more common it was harder for single screen movie houses to compete.

“When you are only showing one film for eight to 12 weeks, you can’t make a mistake in booking,” Battas said. “Multiplexes have an economic advantage.”

The theater eventually segued from movies to a live concert venue before closing altogether in the early 1990’s. Today only two walls of the facility remain as part of the Menards lumber yard but for those who first heard about a Pinball Wizard, learned that Grease was the word or caught sight of that galaxy far, far away, the memories of the Eastwood live on as a treasured piece of the city’s cinematic history.



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Fabulous Fridays: Annie’s remake comes out…Tomorrow

Annie 2     While it will probably kill whatever credibility I have as a rocker, I have a confession to make: I had a slight obsession with Annie when I was younger. I was so enamored by the pupil-less red-headed moppet that it makes my son’s fascination with Doctor Who look mild by comparison.

It all began when I was in the second grade and two girls who I went to school  lip-synched and acted out a few of the songs from the show as a treat for the rest of the class. I don’t know if they had recently seen a touring production of it or merely had the album, but three songs into Side One and I was hooked. There was “Tomorrow” of course, which I was already familiar with, but there were others I hadn’t heard including an opening tune in which every line began with the word “maybe” and a plucky little number that caused the girls to mimic scrubbing the hardwood floors of our schoolroom.

Oh, I desperately wanted a copy of that Original Broadway Cast Recording, but as I recall, I never asked for it. As a general rule, my mother didn’t buy albums. She was a product of the “45” era and felt that singles were a much better investment so I assumed that even if I asked for it, I probably wouldn’t get it, so why bother?

Deep down, I think I also knew that merely learning the songs in my bedroom wouldn’t be enough and that sooner or later, I would want to perform them. Annie was the greatest role for a young girl since Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz or Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and considering that I possessed the same big, booming voice of Andrea McArdle…I totally knew I could play it. However, in order to do that, I would need to see the show and I had about a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening. My folks were not “theater people” and although we enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, I knew that Annie tickets were not in the budget. Unless someone made it into a movie or tickets fell from the sky, it was a safe bet that I was staying home. Talk about your hard-knock life!

When I was in the fourth grade my dream of playing my favorite character came true…sort of. My class performed James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” poem as a shadow play and as fate would have it, I was cast in the title role. Although it is totally not the same thing and the poem has nothing to do with the comic strip or the musical, I took the whole thing very seriously. I “washed the cups and saucers up” as if Miss Hannigan was after me and “brushed the crumbs away” as though my performance was first step on my path to the Great White Way.

Annie 1     However, my Annie obsession kicked into high gear the following year with the release of the 1982 movie starring Aileen Quinn. My dream had come true, Annie was a movie and I was finally going to get to see it! I had no idea how radically different the John Huston version was from the Broadway show, but I didn’t care. I knew that Annie was the same age as me, had a dog that looked a lot like mine and that this movie would have its own soundtrack that was definitely going on my birthday list! (I still have it, in fact!)

Over the next two years, I drove everyone crazy with my affection for all things Annie. Not only did I play the album constantly, the whole neighborhood was treated to daily performances of “Tomorrow” sung to my airedale/collie mix at the top of my lungs on the stage formerly known as my parent’s front porch. I had the posters, dolls and books. (Thank you, Troll Book Club!) When my mother refused to buy me any of the Annie attire that Sears added to their girls clothing line, my neighbor created a makeshift “red dress” that I wore on Halloween night complete with a orange afro wig and patent leather Mary Janes. I sang “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” for local vocal competitions, taking top honors for my efforts and causing people to ask my mother if she would consider letting me audition for the role. (Wanna take a guess as to what her answer was? I’ll give you a hint, it’s two letters and rhymes with “faux.”)

Just when I didn’t think anything could get any better when it came to being ensconced in my little Annie universe, when I was 11, the show came to a small community theater here in Indianapolis. What made this production even better was the fact that a girl I went to school with was cast as Molly. It was so exciting to have even a minor connection to the show and I was always asking about rehearsals and choreography in hopes of picking up a few tips. You can only imagine my surprise when my great aunt and uncle called my mother and asked if they could take me to SEE it as a Christmas present. Talk about my dreams coming true! Not only that, but I would get to see my friend!

Annie 3     To this day, whenever I am in that little playhouse for a show, I make a point of seeking out the Annie poster that still adorns the lobby. It was my first live musical and one that I will always treasure. Though I have grown beyond warbling “Tomorrow” when I see it on TV, I can’t help smiling at a 10-year-old Aileen Quinn and how badly I wanted to be like her. I suppose that is why, win lose or draw, I will be at the movies today watching the new remake. I suspect it will fall short of my expectations, the reviews do not look promising and I am chagrined at the way in which the songs have been replaced and changed, but for a couple of hours I will regress into my childhood (knowing that I have tickets for the REAL show in February) and celebrate the greatest role for a girl in musical theater. I truly hope that the young lady cast in the title role realizes how special that part is and understands that she now holds a special place in history as the eternal optimist who believes that tomorrow “is only a day away.”

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